Keto? Paleo? Slow Carb? Vegan? How to Determine the Perfect Diet For You.

Today we’re gonna get down and dirty and dig into the big diets:

Keto. Paleo. Slow Carb.

Intermittent Fasting.

Vegetarian. Vegan.

Twinkie (yes this is a thing. I’ll prove it below).

Every day, we get multiple emails from people that say something like:

“I know you guys are a paleo blog, but…”

I guess that doesn’t really surprise me.

In addition to our big ass “Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet,” our “beginner’s guide to the Paleo Diet” has been viewed like 25 million times since I first wrote it.

I have a confession to make. Outside of a 30 day experiment back in 2011, I haven’t been Paleo. or Keto.


Seriously, I just heard you gasp.

I have three more truth bombs for you:

  • I don’t care what cavemen actually ate, nor if the Paleo Diet is historically accurate.
  • I don’t think it works for a majority of people.
  • I LOVE the Paleo Diet and have seen it help hundreds of thousands.

I know. “What the hell, Steve!?”

Am I a walking writing contradiction?

Am I flip-flopper who can’t commit?!

For starters, when it comes to health and fitness, flip-flopping is a good thing. It’s called “getting smarter undumber when new information comes to light.

But that’s irrelevant here.

Why? Because it literally DOESN’T MATTER what a caveman actually ate!

I don’t care if a caveman once ate wheat 30,000 years ago—this is what people rage about on the internet because they need to be angry at something and it’s fun to point out holes in a dogmatic popular approach to nutrition.

So, why do I like the Paleo Diet?

Because of “reality” and “human behavior.”

I like the Paleo Diet, just like I like the Keto Diet.

And Intermittent Fasting, and the Slow Carb Diet.[1]

I even like the vegetarian diet or vegan diet for the right people (with some caveats, which I’ll explain below).

I don’t actually think of the diets above as “diets,” but rather as a Mental Model for how to understand and navigate the food choices we make every day.

And mental models can be the difference between effortless weight loss and frustration.

Today I’m gonna teach you how to determine the diet that is perfect for you.

This is one of the most important articles I think you can read on Nerd Fitness, so make sure you set aside the time to dive in!

Quick note: This MASSIVE article is actually the exact philosophy we incorporate into our uber popular 1-on-1 Coaching Program. We cut through the crap, learn your situation, and then help you adjust your nutrition each month until you reach your goals.

Read this monster article, and if you want expert guidance and accountability, click on the image below to schedule a free call with our team to learn more.

How to Eat For Healthy Weight Loss

#1 – Eat fewer calories than you burn every day.

#2 – Want to also be healthy? Eat mostly real food.

Full stop.

Want to KEEP the weight off?

Add #3: Do those two things consistently for a decade.

This solution will get you like 90% of the way towards a killer physique and a consistently healthy checkup at the doctor.

Mix in the right training and you’ll be 99% of the way there.

The problem is that pesky things like “reality” and “genetics” and “human behavior” keep getting in the way.

It’s why everybody goes on diet after diet after diet, gaining and losing the same 10-50 lbs.

Most people can only stick with a diet for a few weeks before they’re so miserable that they can’t wait to go back to how they were eating before.

They count calories and allow themselves to eat “health food” like low-fat ice cream and low-fat chips and just two Oreos. These people are so nutritionally deficient—eating calorie-heavy, unfulfilling foods—that they struggle to stay under their allotment of calories for they day. D’oh.

To make matters worse, even if they’re counting calories, they’re probably misreporting their food and overeating without realizing it.[2]

This is why people get so dang frustrated when they go on a calorie-restricted diet, track their food, and still don’t lose weight. The only explanation must be that their bodies must have slow metabolisms.

Yes, some people can do well with calorie counting long term – and I do believe EVERYBODY should count calories for at least a week to educate themselves about the food they are eating – but I think it’s only part of a solution that has plenty of room for error.

Watch this quick video of a person who believes she has a slow metabolism[3].

It turns out the exact opposite is true. Crap.:

Despite everything stacked against us, Nerd Fitness is FULL of success stories of people who have lost 100s of pounds and kept the weight off. Here are a few dramatic ones (click on the images to read their full stories):

What gives?

Nerd Fitness doesn’t just tell you what to eat. Any Google search can tell you that.

Though we help there too.

At Nerd Fitness, we’re helping you learn HOW to think about eating too.

And that’s the difference maker.

Mental Models for the Win

The Nerd Fitness community is full of ridiculously smart people. Smart people that have tried in vain to lose weight for years or decades.

It’s because we’re fighting a brutal, uphill battle.

For many of us, food is way more than fuel: it’s a coping mechanism. It’s how our moms showed us love. It’s what we turn to when we’re happy or sad. It’s the only thing that provides us with a small bit of happiness in a boring existence.

Add in the fact that unhealthy food has been designed in a laboratory to be so delicious that it must be consumed in mass quantities, and trying to eat “just a few” of something is nearly impossible.

Next, add a dash of “I am obsessive and if I start to track calories I’m going to drive myself insane,” “even if I track my calories I’ll probably underreport how many calories I eat by at least 20%,” and “there is so much information that this all appears so overwhelming, so it’s a lost cause.”

This is why Mental Models are so useful (hat tip to my friend Shane over at Farnam Street Blog who taught me about Mental Models). I’m gonna borrow the concept here for nutrition.


  • Paleo Diet: If a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you. “Okay, what would a caveman eat? Probably things that grow in the ground, so vegetables and fruit, and also animals. They wouldn’t eat candy or bread or pasta or drink soda.”
  • Keto Diet: Keep your carb intake under 5% (or more extreme, 10 grams, for example) of your total calories so your body has to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs and sugar. “Time to learn how many carbs are in everything I eat, and start tracking.”
  • Slow Carb Diet: Eat legumes, protein, veggies. “Time to learn how to make food that only fits the slow carb model. At least until cheat day!”
  • Intermittent Fasting: Only eat between 12pm and 8pm. Occasionally do 24 hour fasts. “Okay, so I’ll just skip breakfast. That’s one less meal I have to think about.”

In each of the above options, there are a few similarities that make them such trendy/popular diet choices. 

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to hold off on digging into the health benefits that apply to a small percentage of the population on certain diets (Keto to treat epilepsy, Paleo/Keto for Hashimoto’s Disease, identifying a gluten intolerance, etc), we’re going to focus on the reasons MOST people pick these diets.

They’re simple to comprehend and will probably help you lose weight:

#1) They all will result in you eating fewer calories (usually).

If you follow the Paleo Diet, you are eliminating some of the most calorie dense, nutritionally deficient, unhealthy foods out there. No more soda, no candy, no bread, no pasta, no sugar, no dairy.

If you follow the Keto Diet, you must track your carb intake, which means you’re going to also learn how many calories are in everything else you eat. You’re also essentially eliminating an entire macronutrient from your diet that’s notorious for keeping people overweight.

If you follow the Slow Carb Diet, you learn about which foods you can eat and which foods you can’t eat: yes to beans, no to dairy and grains. Like Paleo or Keto, you’re eliminating massively unhealthy foods from your diet, which will most likely result in weight loss.

If you do Intermittent Fasting, you’re eliminating 1/3rd of your meals for the day! Let’s say you normally ate an 800 calorie breakfast, 800 calorie lunch, and 800 calorie dinner. If you SKIP breakfast, that means you could eat larger lunches and dinners (1000 calories each) and still end up eating 400 calories less per day on average. That’s enough for 3-4 pounds of weight loss per month!

#2) You can answer “YES” or “NO” to adherence.

Sure, it would be great if you could weigh every element of food that you eat, and track each meal in a spreadsheet and KNOW you’re tracking each calorie and macronutrient correctly.

And for some people looking to get to bodybuilder levels of bodyfat, this level of perfection is required.

However, for the rest of us, working regular jobs, with kids, and lives, this shit is wayyyyy too much.

So these mental models are so damn helpful because they can simplify the overly complicated and allow us to get out of our own heads.

These Mental Model Diets require compliance and consistency. In each instance, there’s a very specific answer you can say every day, and a question you can ask yourself with each meal.

As our favorite green Jedi Master once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”:

  • Paleo Diet: “Would a caveman eat this?” Yes or no.
  • Keto Diet: “Am I in ketosis?” Yes or no. You can even pee on strips to see if you are in ketosis.
  • Slow Carb Diet: “Did I only eat slow carb foods today?” Yes or no.
  • Intermittent Fasting: “Did I skip breakfast today? Did I stop eating after my feeding window?” Yes or no.

In each of these examples above, it removes ALLLLLLLL of the fluff, simplifies the heck out of our complex physiology and a complex problem. And it allows us to stop fooling ourselves.

With the mental models above, we have rules and a framework within which we can operate. It starts with black and white YES or NO questions we can ask.

We know what (or when) we can and can’t eat.

It’s a lot easier to fool ourselves when we are sneaking bites of cookies, having an extra roll at dinner, drinking a larger soda during a long night at work, eating some of our kid’s Halloween candy, and overeating while absentmindedly watching television.

When the rules are black and white, yes or no, there’s no place to hide.

Which means we need to get our act together if we’re going to stick with something.

We start to understand the quality and quantity of things we are putting in our pie holes. We start to dig into our relationship with food.

And in MANY cases, we start to lose some weight (again, see #1 above); this starts to make us feel better about ourselves. And we chase that feeling.

We create a positive virtuous cycle where you lose weight, get complimented, wake up not feeling like crap, look forward to exercising, and over time we become permanently changed, healthier, happier people.

In a similar vein, The Whole 30 Diet works for many people (“I only eat Whole 30 foods for the next 30 days”), but it will not result in long term changes if somebody goes back to their original unhealthy diet after the 30 days are up.

Temporary changes = temporary results.

#3) They can be done incorrectly, are tough to stick with long term, and won’t work for everybody.

Depending on our genetics, upbringing, lifestyle choices, addiction to sugar, relationship with food, what foods satiate us, etc., some of these options might work better for us than others.

As mentioned above, if ANY of the above nutritional strategies are done temporarily, they will result in temporary changes. This is how the majority of people go through life: gaining and losing the same 15-30 (or 50, or 100) pounds as they go on a diet and off a diet.

It’s a rollercoaster.

And not the good kind of rollercoaster with flips and corkscrews and probably involving Batman. It’s more like one of those rickety old wooden coasters that ruins your back.

Those rollercoasters suck, and so does putting your body through crazy weight loss extremes, up down, yes no, yo-yo.

Although these Mental Model diets can help people lose weight, they are often done for short time periods to get quick results.

And that’s only if people can actually stick with them long enough to get results! 

Let me explain.

Why These Diets Probably Won’t Work For You

There are two main reasons why these diets won’t work for you.

Some of them are more strict, have more rules, and require you to be more militant in your approach. And even if you are strict in applying the rules, you can STILL do the diets incorrectly and gain weight because of this whole concept of thermodynamics.

Don’t get mad at me. Get mad at science.[4]

#1) You Can Do These Mental Model Diets Incorrectly:

Paleo: I know people who “go paleo” but eat just as many calories as they did in the past: they are eating paleo cookies, buckets of dried fruit (soooo much sugar and carbs), sweet potatoes, and so on. This person will be frustrated when they don’t lose weight.

Keto: If you go Keto but eat 5,000 calories per day, you’re gonna put on weight. Do this while sitting on your ass not doing heavy strength training, and that weight will be all fat.

Intermittent Fasting: If you do intermittent fasting but eat 2,000 calorie lunches and dinners, you’re gonna put on weight. Hell, I put on probably 30 pounds while doing IF, which was my plan.

Slow Carb: If you go slow carb but eat 6,000 calories of beans and other slow-carb worthy foods, you’re gonna gain weight (and have extreme flatulence).

#2) Sticking with these Mental Model Diets for the long haul can be tough

The Paleo Diet and the Keto diet often come up dead last when it comes to a “List of Best Diets.”[5]

Now, the people writing those lists certainly have agendas, are trying to deal with the general population, adherence, a number of other factors, and more. In addition, there just haven’t been enough long term studies on some of these newer diet strategies.

Oh, and factor in anybody too that wants to get page views by taking shots and tearing down whatever becomes popular. We’ll call this the “hipster phenomenon.” I look forward to the vitriolic backlash to Keto Diets over the next 3 years.

And you never know who to trust. Coca-Cola famously used to bribe scientists to conduct studies claiming sugar was healthy.

So why the hate for diets that have changed millions of lives and will probably help you lose weight?

The reason these diets have poor compliance is because most people will abandon them within days/weeks after starting them:

If somebody is following Paleo or Keto, they’re gonna go through “carb flu” symptoms as their body has to learn to burn fat instead of carbs for fuel. Their body can revolt against this, making them miserable for days or weeks.

Many give up and go back to sweet, comforting carbs. I imagine this happens to a majority of people.

For others, they might make it past the physiological challenges but still give up on the date. They hate having to be the difficult one at barbecues, they hate weighing food or counting carbs, and find the diets too restrictive to fit into their lives.

Compliance and elimination of certain foods can be really challenging, especially for people with families, who travel for work, and aren’t in control of the lunch and dinner options.

In an EXTREME example of a Mental Model diet done for publicity, a professor went on the Twinkie Diet (he ONLY ate Twinkies) and lost 27 pounds.[6]

Disregarding the health implications of only eating Twinkies, I can’t imagine saying “this is a diet I can stick with for the next decade.”

#3) People think “All or Nothing” and quickly abandon the diet when compliance fails.

If you are somebody who is on a Keto Diet or Paleo, you have a very specific set of rules to follow. If you accidentally slip up:

  • Oh crap, that food had more carbs than I realized, I am now out of ketosis and my world has ended.
  • Oh crap, I didn’t realize this was dairy. I have now brought shame upon my paleo heritage and must attone for my sins.

Life happens. Shit happens. And with these diets, we dumb humans have this unique ability to take one tiny mistake and allow it to ruin the next decade:

“I ate a breakfast that wasn’t Paleo, today is ruined and so this month. I’ll try again next month (even though it’s only the 5th). Oh look, a pile of carbs! NOM NOM NOM.”

“I got knocked out of Ketosis, which makes me a loser that can’t stick with anything and I hate myself. What’s the point? Who cares that I was in ketosis and lost 30 pounds. I’ll try again later. Now back to my regularly scheduled program of carbs and carbs and carbs topped with carbs!”

No wonder 60+% of America is overweight! We’re surrounded by calorie-dense, nutritionally-deficient foods designed to make us overeat. We’re also surrounded by diet plans and products that promise fast results with no effort. We sabotage ourselves by thinking “99% complaint” is a failure and thus it’s a quick slide back to “0% compliant.”

It’s for these reasons I LOVE the IDEA of the Mental Model Diets above, but know that they’re not for everybody. They’re actually not for most people.

I think they can be a valuable starting point to help somebody simplify their decision-making process and educate themselves about the food they’re eating.

These Mental Model Diets can help people identify certain nutritional deficiencies or imbalances somebody might have, or unknown allergies.

They can help people identify sugar addictions, gluten intolerances, emotional triggers for food, and other valuable information to uncover. And as previously mentioned, some of these diets even have serious health benefits for certain conditions (Keto has been used to treat epilepsy, for example).

But let’s stick with the general population and keep things simple.

For somebody that is very overweight, following one of the Mental Model Diets can be a huge boon and momentum builder. They can lose lots of weight early on, and build off this success to beget further success.

I also think long term compliance is really difficult for 95+% of the planet.

This is why the Paleo Diet isn’t for me. Nor is Keto. Or slow carb. And although I have been Intermittent Fasting for close to 5 years, I still don’t mind eating breakfast or brunch occasionally because it fits for me.

I want the solution that is pretty good. That gets me results. That fits into my reality.

This is the rough philosophy behind our 10-Level system which you can download as a free PDF when you sign up in the box below, which allows you to be damn good most of the time! Simple rules you can follow, and increase the challenge as you build momentum.

The 80% Nutrition Solution

You are a real person who lives in the real world and thus must deal with this thing called reality.

Sucks, I know.

We have to learn to make a Mental Model diet fit into our personal reality:

If you work in a candy store or a pastry shop, trying to go full Paleo 100% of the time is going to be impossible. You’re setting yourself up for failure, because you’re expecting your reality to be different than it is.

If you’re married to somebody who loves to cook Italian food, cutting out pasta is the first step towards divorce.

If you have kids, only keeping Keto foods will not win you any “Parent of the Year” awards. And you can kiss that “#1 Dad” mug goodbye.

If you can’t have “just one” of something, don’t fool yourself into trying to be disciplined enough to have “just one.” It’s actually why I pay extra money for small cartons of Goldfish Crackers and/or small cans of soda. It makes it easier for me to treat these things like…well, a treat and less like a staple of my diet.

You need to educate yourself about the food you eat. You need to identify the mental models that simplify your decision making process when it comes to food.

And you need to pick the level of adherence that aligns with your goals:

It’s why I wrote about how I’m “Paleo-ish” in the past. For some people, they start Paleo and settle into a “good enough” mentality that still has guardrails.

It’s why our “Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating” is one of our most popular articles.

It’s why over 50,000 people have joined our NF Academy with the 10-level diet stuff.

And it’s why our 1-on-1 coaching program doesn’t promote a “one diet fits all” solution. Our coaches have our hundreds of clients track how they’re eating now and then educate them to introduce new rules and challenges from month to month!

We don’t want you to follow a diet for the next 30 days. We want you to follow a nutritional strategy that you can stick with for the next DECADE.

Which means you need a solution that accomplishes three things:

  1. A strategy that you can follow consistently for 5+ years.
  2. A strategy that you can track your compliance with.
  3. If done long enough, a strategy that will help you reach your goal weight/physique.

Following a “pizza, pasta, and soda” diet might be something you can stick with for 5+ years, but it won’t make you reach your healthy weight.

If Keto will help you lose weight but you can’t stick with it for 5+ years, then “strict keto forever” probably isn’t the best strategy for you.

This is why we want rules we can follow, that help us reach our goals, that we can live with permanently.

Think of these rules like bumper lanes in bowling.

You can’t throw it in the gutter (0% compliance), but you have enough guardrails that allow you to still knock over the pins (weight loss).

THAT is the sweet spot.

Steve’s Good Enough Diet Strategy

I’ve identified certain mental models and rules  that help me make sense of my day without being overly neurotic, still have fun with friends, and ALSO allow me to reach my strength training and physique goals.

Here’s my personal “80% of the time, it works every time” strategy:

#1) Skip breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast. My first feed happens after my 11am workout. Yup, sometimes I’ll eat brunch on a weekend or have a bagel/donut, but that’s rare. I love Intermittent Fasting, it works for me, and I’ll probably do this for the rest of my life.

#2) Eat real food most of the time. I know what real food is. I try to only eat real food. If you hate veggies (as I used to), here’s how I learned to love them. Yup, I still eat rice and potatoes.

#3) Know my calories. I skip breakfast, and I eat the same lunch every day, and I know the basic quantities and calories of foods I normally eat. This means I generally know how many calories I’m eating every day with minimal effort. This is done more strictly if I am targeting certain goals.

#4) No unnecessary liquid calories. I drink black coffee, unsweet black tea, or water. No soda. No juice (which is pretty much sugar water). I do put whole milk in my powerbomb smoothies, which I drink specifically to help me overeat on training days to build muscle. I still drink whiskey (neat) or good beer when the occasion calls for it!

#5) Never eat two unhealthy meals in a row. If I eat an unhealthy lunch (pizza and wings and beer), I either make my dinner healthy or skip dinner entirely. If I ate an unhealthy dinner, my lunch the next day is going to be healthy. I know myself, and when it comes to momentum killing, 1 bad meal is a speed bump, 2 is a brick wall.

Before I help you come up with your own rules, I want to address the elephant in the room.

Okay, now that I’ve addressed him, let’s talk about vegetarians and vegans!

What About Vegan and Vegetarian?

I actually considered including Vegetarian or Vegan mental models in the above sections, as I know we have plenty of plant-based folks in the Rebellion.

Here’s why I didn’t: neither option satisfies Rule #1 (“By following this strategy, you will most likely lose weight”). I’ll explain.

Yes, as a vegan or vegetarian, you can ask yourself: “Is this Vegan/Vegetarian? Yes or No” (Rule #2), which does make it a mental model in that respect.

However, in order for you to lose weight and be healthier on either mental model, you need to be very aware of the foods you’re eating and how many calories they have—which introduces more complexity.

Pizza, fettuccine alfredo, bowls of sugary cereal, grilled cheese sandwiches, and calorie-bomb burritos can be vegetarian.[7]

Donuts, pasta, and bread can be vegan.

Plant-based? Technically, yes. Healthy? Ehhhh.

Just like you can do Paleo or Keto incorrectly, you absolutely can be an unhealthy vegetarian or an unhealthy vegan. The same is true of going gluten-free.

Long story short: if you are thinking of going vegetarian or vegan for whatever reason (nutritional, moral, religion, this new person you’re dating is vegetarian, etc.), go for it!

It might work for you! It might not.

It might help you lose weight! It might not.

It all depends on what the foods you are eating in addition to being vegan or vegetarian.

So, if going plant-based ALSO helps you educate yourself on what you’re putting in your body, if it helps you make better food decisions, and changes your relationship with food for the long term, and gets you the health/physique results you’re after, great!


Just don’t fool yourself into blindly believing what you’re doing is healthy just because you cut out meat without actually analyzing what you’re replacing it with.

If you are vegan or vegetarian and planned on emailing me angry words for not including them as healthy options above, thus concludes my cover-my-ass explanation. We’re cool, right?

Also, yes. I have read the China Study. [8]

How to Pick the Diet That’s Right For You

Those are the rules I’ve picked above that fit MY reality. I adjust based on my progress from month-to-month, whether or not I’m making progress in the gym (and in the mirror!).

Here’s how you can determine the best diet for you: Throw the concept of the “perfect diet” out the window and staple this to your forehead: “The perfect diet is the diet I can actually stick with.”

Actually, don’t staple that to your forehead. It’ll be backwards when you look in the mirror and that will defeat the purpose.

Instead, do this – Be a badass scientist:

#1 – Do some research, juuuuust enough to get started[9], and pick the diet or the rules you want to start with. Pick the rules that you can live with. Then, start. Now.

Here are some sample yes/no rules to get you started outside of the mental model diets. Note the difference in challenge/healthiness – pick the ones at YOUR level:

  • I can’t more than 5 sodas per week (instead of my normal 10). It’s up to me when I drink them.
  • I don’t eat fast food Monday through Friday.
  • I eat a vegetable with every lunch and dinner.
  • Once per week I’ll do a 24-hour fast.
  • I don’t drink alcohol on Sunday afternoon through Friday afternoon. Other than that, all bets are off.

#2 – Track your adherence to the diet or rules. It can be very simple (“Yes I was compliant today”/“No I wasn’t”). A spreadsheet, a calendar where you write X’s on the days where you were compliant, an app, a friend you check in with, etc. Your rules can be “Only drink 5 sodas this week,” “eat two vegetables per day,” or “eat under X amount of carbs.” Pick rules that line up with your life.

#3 – Track your progress, assess your strategy. Compare photos, measurements, and/or lifts in the gym at the end of the month. Are you better off than you were 30 days ago? Do you feel like you can stick with the rules for another few months? Were you able to stick to the plan more than 80-90% of the time?

#4) Stay the course, or course-correct:

  • Compliant with your rules and you lost weight? Great! Do it again for another month.
  • Couldn’t stick with your rules? Great! Adjust your rules to be less rigid so you’re more likely to stick with them.
  • Stuck with your rules but didn’t lose any weight? Great! You identified that your rules weren’t aligned with your goals. Adjust them.

#5) Repeat! Forgive yourself if you don’t succeed (each month is a new experiment). Even “failure” gives you information on what diets DON’T work for your situation.

You will need to follow these 5 steps every month for the rest of your life, so better get used it.

That’s what we call “life.”

Because life IS change and chaos.

Success comes from learning to navigate through the muck!

Your body will change in the coming years, and so will your rules. You might get pregnant or go through menopause. You might get an injury or change jobs or discover a food allergy. You might have kids or move cross country or go on vacation.

Each month, do a quick evaluation of where you are. Decide if you need to stay the course or make adjustments.

Do this consistently, and you’ll eventually arrive at the perfect diet FOR YOU. You are a unique snowflake in an environment and situation that is unique to you.

So again, I do not follow a paleo lifestyle. I don’t even recommend Paleo as the option that’s best for everybody.

What I recommend is treating life like an experiment, and using the resources and community here at Nerd Fitness to identify the rules and strategy that works for YOUR reality.

The Mental Models of Paleo, Keto, Slow Carb, Intermittent Fasting, Vegan, Vegetarian, or other eating models may be able to help you get started, and MIGHT even get you results!

But it’s gotta fit your life and ultimately be sustainable to have any real chance at long-term success.

So I recommend that YOU take control over finding the perfect diet for YOU.

Pick a mental model and incorporate it into your life. Lean on your friends or this community for support. Learn from people who have succeeded in the way you want to succeed. Track your compliance and progress. AND KEEP EVOLVING.

This is why I started Nerd Fitness: to help people cut through the crap and start to make progress that can stick even as the rest of their life goes through change.

If you’re somebody who is super overwhelmed or has struggled with yo-yo dieting for years, you’re not alone! This stuff is tough, and finding a way to navigate a constantly changing, chaotic life while following brutally strict rules ain’t easy.

This is why we created our 1-on-1 online coaching program.

Work with one of our coaches who will provide you with a custom workout for YOUR lifestyle, and also work with you on creating the nutritional rules and mental models that fit for YOUR specific situation and goals.

If you’re interested, you can schedule a free call with our team to learn more about the program by clicking on the image below:


I want to hear from you with regards to these Mental Models and how they fit into your life:

What are your questions that I didn’t address above? I’ll do my best to respond to all comments!

Which Mental Model Diet worked for you?

Which one didn’t?

Let me know in the comments below!


PS: For people that are more do-it-yourself, we have a self-paced course! Check out the Nerd Fitness Academy, which has helped 50,000+ students lose weight and change their lives through workout plans, 10 levels of nutrition, boss battles, and a supportive online community.

PPS: Please don’t do the Twinkie Diet.


photo credit: clement127: Mr Banana, JonathanCohen: weightless, Reiterlied: The New Yoda, Rafael Peñaloza: Undecided, stavos: Fish soup, regolare: point brick, Jose Antonio Hidalgo Jimenez Killer Peppers….STAR WARS., clement127 In the lab

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  • Emma Holliday

    I love this article and it has come at a great time for me. I’ve been slowly improving my diet over the last couple of years but I am lacking in a sustainable model. I was either on a ‘diet’ and my weight was slowly creeping down or I wasn’t dieting and my weight was slowly creeping up. I’ve never managed to find a happy medium that I can stick to indefinitely. I’m currently where I want to be weight wise so I will spend some time developing my mental model and see if I can find something that works. I love the ability to answer yes/no questions about my food, it takes the complications away. I have also been eating the same thing for lunch for the last 2 weeks and I like not having to think about it at all, I know it just works. Monthly reviews seem a great plan. No failure if I have gained a few pounds that month, just a small alteration to the model and carry on. Thanks Steve for everything you do for us!

  • Tracy

    A great article, Steve, and all the comments showing that a lot of people agree with you! It just makes so much sense. I would say pretty much the same as White Coat Trainer’s comments. I
    personally follow a mostly low carb diet, I get derailed sometimes, but always get right back on it and I do a 24 hour fast once a week. This is just my lifestyle now. Thanks for NF, I read regularly and that also helps keep me motivated!

  • Tracy

    A great article, Steve, and all the comments showing that a lot of people agree with you! It just makes so much sense. I would say pretty much the same as White Coat Trainer’s comments. I
    personally follow a mostly low carb diet, I get derailed sometimes, but always get right back on it and I do a 24 hour fast once a week. This is just my lifestyle now. Thanks for NF, I read regularly and that also helps keep me motivated!

  • YaminoKaze

    The biggest thing I struggle with is not necessarily an addiction to carbs, but the fact that carbs are by far the cheapest way to stretch a meal.

  • Melissa

    Dear Steve,

    I like to think I am very knowledgeable in the field of nutrition and weight loss (don’t stop reading! I promise I’m not a pompous moron) – not only is that what my major centers around, but it’s been my obsession for as long as I can remember. It’s almost laughable, then, that I’m still struggling with my weight and unsure what works for me. I cannot even count the amount of advice I have poured over, the amount of researching and discovering I have done, or the amount of techniques/lifestyle models I have personally put to the test – mostly to no avail for me.

    When I was 25, I worked in a seafood department. It was a demanding job, I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, so I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off. I snacked on smoked salmon or whatever I was working on as I went along. During my break, I would grab a box of bacon (yes, a box) and some french toast from the hot bar, usually accompanied by my favorite sugar-laden chocolate coconut milk drink. Some days I would get smoothies. For dinner, I would eat out and I never limited myself. I could order so much food, it makes me sick to think of it now. I also drank a lot of beer and other alcoholic drinks, often times going into work still tipsy with very little sleep. That was the most in-shape I have ever been in my entire life, including the 3 years after having my son when I weight-trained, did HIIT, and counted macros and calories like nobody’s business. I was relatively thin and had enough muscle to break down pallets and lift 50+lb boxes of salmon repeatedly.

    I’m 29 now. My second baby is 10 months old. I cannot lose weight for the life of me. My body has changed in ways that make me feel like there is no coming back. For the first 6 months postpartum, I didn’t stress about what I ate, how much I ate, or exercising. I was exhausted, very short on time, and had a little one to fawn over. I frequently say I regret that, but I know if I went back, I probably wouldn’t change much. So, I’m now focusing on being as healthy as I can be in the little windows of time that I have to do so.

    My problem is – I have no patience. If I’m not seeing quick results, I tend to just settle back into comforting habits. So, I tried keto – thinking it wouldn’t be sustainable, but could kick-start some rapid results that would boost my confidence and motivate me.

    Now, I come from an Italian family. I wouldn’t say bread has always been the #1 staple in my diet, I would say I had a deep, deep relationship with bread and was 100% aware that it was based on dependency. I didn’t care, despite the extra pounds it was slowly adding on. It filled me up, stuck to my belly, and made me feel warm, happy and safe. So, swapping bread, pasta and rice out for healthy fats sounded absolutely repulsive – not to mention lonely, empty and unfamiliar. Despite this, I started out strong and was really excited that I was not only eliminating excess sugars and starches from my diet, but that I thoroughly enjoyed eating greens with every meal. On top of the diet changes, I was making resistance band training part of my daily routine – super empowering.
    I lost 4lbs during the 4 weeks that I followed a keto diet. In the end, the food became repulsive and my patience and initial excitement wore thin. I’m not a big meat eater – I’ve just never really enjoyed it. So, I was filling my protein/healthy fat requirements with eggs, avocados, eggs, eggs, eggs, avocados… you get the idea. Blegh. I can’t even enjoy an avocado anymore.

    I expected this to not be a sustainable option for me, so I wasn’t too crushed when I gave up, especially considering that I took a lot of the healthy principles with me going forward. Sugar is still on my no-no list – particularly added sugar and anything that would have high levels of fructose with little else to offer. I already had a great base prior to this – I never drink fruit juice or soda, the only sugary drink I consume is coconut water on occasion – otherwise it’s water or unsweetened, herbal tea. I avoid eating out at restaurants. I read ingredient lists and don’t buy foods that have been highly processed or loaded with artificial ingredients. I shop organic and try to make my calories matter. Becoming more aware of sugar helped me level up.

    The thing that I have known all along but refuse to pay tribute to, is that I eat far too many calories to burn anything off. 25 year-old me was constantly on the go and working that shit off, 29 year-old me is mentally exhausted from her monotonous day of having only a 10 month-old baby and 9 year-old boy to converse with (fart jokes, anyone?) and fighting the constant urge to continuously shovel readily-available food in her mouth.

    Your article today has been the tipping point for this self-proclaimed fat girl. I can no longer justify eating food for comfort with the vague hope that the calories I’m burning off will make up for it or that if I don’t eat frequently, I will lose all this muscle I’m working so hard to build, or that the stress of refusing myself these extra calories is far more detrimental to my weight-loss goals than simply denying them – yes, that is a legitimate excuse I comfort myself with daily.
    So I’m throwing out all the excuses now. I’ll buy some ashwaganda or holy basil or something to combat the stress I’m giving myself from suppressing my constant desire for munchies and figure out what will work best for me as far as calorie cutting is concerned.

    Although I was not intending on writing this ridiculously long article-length story of my life, I know that when you asked for comments, you were probably looking for something you could sink your teeth into – and what can I say? I’m a people-pleaser.

  • Cooper James Dunn

    I love this article and it has put into words what I have been trying to do. Your articles on Paleo-ish and learning enough to get started have got me where I am today. I have tried Paleo and Keto and this would work for a little bit but then I would fail hard. But I have learned to fail forward. See what works and what didn’t and move forward.

    6 months ago I was recommended to try being Vegan, and subsequently my friends bet me that I couldnt do it for a month. I took on the challenge with the aim of altering my diet to reduced animal products, and a diet based on “Real / Plant” based foods. However after a month I have never felt better so have not stopped.

    I am throwing up the idea of slowly bring in eggs and white meat to eat occasionally and following the never 2 in a row. The best advice i have gotten is to fail forward. Learn something each time.

  • Ben

    I definately agree that no matter if someone found the ‘perfect’ diet it wouldn’t matter if they can’t stick to it. Which is why i’ve always said ‘the best way of eating is something you can relatively enjoy in the long term”.

    I also believe in developing it as a lifestyle as in ‘this is just how I eat now’ and not trying something dumb like ‘I’ll just eat a bit of lettuce each day and nothing else’ because nobody will last long doing that.

    The big issue is definately the comfort eating, or eating as a coping mechanism. To really deal with that I had to go back to those past memories and work on the emotions, and the one about people showing us love with food stands out to me, as my grandma would always cook me cakes and stuff and tell me it’s because she loved me so i’d turn to food if I felt like crap.

    I found when I was able to work on the negative emotions making me want to eat, and in my mind take the ‘love’ out of the food and put it back into the people then i’ve been able to transform my eating.

  • Wyrmlaf

    Hey Steve, great article and just at the right time. I’ve been through several of those diets (including vegitairan and vegan) and came to find I could do a keto/paleo light kind of diet. Good proteins and fresh vegatables, etc. The fun part was our church had a bunch of the teenagers graduating high school and there were a lot of parties for that. I found that having a samll piece of cake fromt the middle (much less icing) let me enjoying it and didn’t set me back very much. Kind of no gain/loss for a couple of days. I also wasn’t trying to go “I need to lose 50 pounds.” I was doing it in 5 pound increments (there’s a mental model for you). Lately I’ve trying to cook dinner from fresh foods like steak, chicken and such and veggies and have the leftovers for lunch. That has been good for things as well and the smaller portions helped. But I will say if you are married it really helps to have the support of your spouse in what you’re doing and I lost that and basically had to start over last year after gaining back most of the weight (i basically gave up) . But I’m back headed in the right direction.

  • Hey Steve,

    Thank you for this article! This pretty much sums up what I’ve learnt for myself over the past 5 years. I started with strict paleo, lost tonnes of weight, then realised my body needed carbs to help my mood/energy. I was very thin, constantly tired and grumpy. So I reintroduced potatoes and rice.

    Since then, I’ve had another baby, had various life stresses, and I have put back on all the weight I had lost and then some. I fooled myself into thinking that if I “just ate healthier” that I could lose the weight again, but it’s not worked. I need the rules of a fairly easy to follow diet, such as paleo, but with the adaptations that I know I can get on with, such as rice (in moderation). There’s a lot more to this story than just this, but I’ll leave it there!

    I love your “1 bad meal is a speed bump, 2 is a brick wall” statement – I follow the same rule for workouts. Missing 1 is okay, but never miss 2 in a row. It makes it a helluva lot harder to get back into a routine!

  • jdsmarshall

    Thanks Steve, great article. I personally subscribe to the “more good, less bad” diet, where I eat mostly real food, I have only two meals most days, and I only eat wholemeal bread with my brunch sandwich (and try not to eat other high carb products). I did measure my calorie intake for a week or so (who knew wine had so many calories!), but mostly it’s the things I don’t do. I don’t drink during the week, I don’t buy pre-prepped ingredients, I don’t buy snacks, I don’t give a shit when I do do some of the things I just said, but I also don’t do them twice in the same week. Since joining NFA in December, I’ve lost fat, gained muscle, and learned to cook. Not in that order.
    I don’t have a goal in mind, I’m in it for the journey, but overall I feel better in general and, more importantly, I am confident that I’ve got this health thing under my control.
    Thanks for everything, I’ll continue to point my media-industry nerd friends in your direction.

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  • I find going on diet is hard so I just switch up what I eat. I will take vegetables for snacks.

  • Thanks JDSMarshall!

    “more good, less bad” is a good philosophy. And as your goals or life changes, the definition for “good” and “bad” can be different.

    I do try to make sure i’m not demonizing food or making myself feel guilty by using that terminology. Sugar isn’t evil – it’s sugar! Carb’s aren’t morally bad. They’re just carbs.

    So I eat guilt free in a way that fits my narrow band of goals + happiness 🙂

    Glad to hear you’re really enjoying the Nerd Fitness Academy and have found success too! Great news all around.

  • Caitlyn

    Great article, Steve. I’m new to the Nerd Fitness community but I like what I see here so far. Food has become so attached to morality lately, that I instantly am annoyed by anyone who is pushing a certain way of eating as The Way. So thanks.

    I struggle with knowing how to fuel my body. I’m very active and am looking to get stronger. I liked how I felt on Paleo, but found it tough to adhere to over the long-term without the carbs. I have struggled with pretty severe hypoglycemia my whole life, and often have to eat every 1.5-2 hours to keep energy levels up, which most dietitians have recommended to me. This looks like shoving some candy in my mouth mid-workout or having to take a break at work to eat a banana. I’m wondering if you know of a way of eating that has been helpful for those with hypoglycemia. I’m pretty tired of having to constantly eat.

    I know you’re not my doc or dietitian, but if you have any resources I’d greatly appreciate it.

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  • S.E. W

    I love this. I notice that in the NF women’s facebook group, there are consistently questions about “XYZ isn’t paleo, what do I do?” or “can I eat XYZ even though it’s not strict paleo but falls into most of the categories and is homemade?” I think some of the earlier emphasis in posts about nutrition that pushed that Paleo Diet triggered some people to take strict compliance to new, anxiety-inducing levels — which sets people up for failure. I’m really glad this article was published so we have something to link to.

    For me, I’ve found macro tracking to be helpful to me. I tracked my macros without a “goal” in mind as essentially a food log for a few weeks just to see where I was. I measured/weighed everything, but ate/prepared everything normally. I used an app and set the target macros to much higher numbers than I would use so nothing would show up as going over my daily allotment, which gave me a good idea of where I was. I then set my macros to the recommended split based on my TDEE and goals to see what would happen if I followed them. (I used the app called “Mike’s Macros”)

    I learned really quickly that I need fewer carbs and more fat than what the calculator provided initially, but going very low carb was not sustainable, both physically (running out of gas in the middle of lifting) and in terms of lifestyle. I adjusted accordingly, tracked macros, and kept measuring/weighing food until I got into enough of a groove that I could “eyeball” it well enough for my needs.

    I learned a lot — like how food labels actually work (calorie counts are basically just simple math with the carb, protein, and fat numbers lower down on the label, it’s not a huge mystery), how to assess if something is a really good source of protein for my needs, and how to sneak in extra protein if I need it.

    I basically set my own “diet,” but really, I think of it more as having a good handle on nutrition/macros and understanding WHY and WHAT I’m doing, i.e. developing my own mindset module.

  • Amy Sears

    I’m so glad i found this article. I have been all over the place with ‘diets’. I tried keto, paleo, fasting, calorie restriction, and being vegetarian. I never stuck with any of them because they all felt too restrictive in some way, and i thought if i didn’t stick to the strict rules, i was failing, so i would give up. I yo-yo between quite healthy eating and ‘convenient’ unhealthy foods at the moment. Healthy meals are great but feel like way too much effort (i hate cooking), but the easy ready meals are so full of crap. If i ever told myself i wasn’t allowed something, i would crave it more. But recently, I decided to quit chocolate by my own choice, and a couple of months later i don’t miss it at all. Really makes you think.

  • Greg

    Does Nerd Fitness employ a Registered Dietitian?

  • Tony Langdon

    Yep more adjustments to allow for a tendency towards high cholesterol. :/ Diet is probably going to get a closer examination over the next year or so. 🙂